These are the top 5 Moscow tourist attractions for the time-pressed business traveler who wants to take in the most of what Moscow has to offer.
The Kremlin, Moscow. Photo: Shutterstock / Legion Media
1. The Kremlin and Red Square
The Kremlin is the real deal, a veritable fortress of Russian culture and heritage. Stop first at the Armory, a literal treasure chest of historical riches that originated as the Imperial arsenal.
For weapon lovers, there’s much to admire, but the museum is also filled with carriages, costumes, crowns, and one of the world’s most significant collections of Faberge eggs.
If this doesn’t sound exciting, well, let’s remember that the Bolsheviks overthrew the Romanovs for being out of touch with its people. Come here and continue on to the State Diamond Fund next door to see just how out of touch they were.
From the Kremlin, head to Red Square, which throughout history has been host to Moscow’s main market, a site for executions, military parades, an ice skating rink, and concerts by such acts as the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
On the western side of the square is Lenin’s Mausoleum and the Soviet founder can be found here in an embalmed state. Lenin is surrounded on either side by the Kremlin Wall Necropolis, which began its life as a mass grave for Bolsheviks during the Revolution, but has since acquired such residents as Stalin; Felix Dzerzhinsky, who founded of the Cheka, predecessor to the KGB; and the ashes of Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space.
St. Basil’s Cathedral is on the south end of the square, the eclectic, onion-domed building, whose iconic image most people conjure up when imagining Russia. Built on the orders of Ivan the Terrible and finished in 1561 to commemorate the acquisition of new territories for the Russian Empire, today it houses a museum.
Exit Red Square through the GUM shopping center, Russia’s most famous department store. The current structure was built just after the War of 1812 with Napoleon and by 1917 there were more than 1,000 shops. From the 1950s until perestroika, this was one of the few reliable places to purchase consumer goods, as its shelves were never bare. Today, it’s one of Moscow’s priciest shopping plazas.
The main Kremlin Excursion Office is located at Aleksandrovsky Sad (“Alexander Garden”). The Kremlin is open every day except for Thursdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (until 6 p.m. from May to September). The Armory Chamber lets in groups at 10 a.m., 12 a.m., 2.30 p.m., and 4.30 p.m.
Tickets are 350 rubles for general entrance and 700 rubles for entrance to the Armory Chamber.
Metro: Aleksandrovsky Sad/Biblioteka imeni Lenina/Borovitskaya
2. Bolshoi Theater and the Metropol Hotel
Bolshoi, of course, means big and there is no grander stage in Russia. The Bolshoi has always been at the heart of theatrical innovation and controversy throughout Russian history. Catherine the Great granted Prince Pyotr Urusov the right to found the theater in 1776, although its current incarnation only came into existence 80 years later when the doors were opened to the public.
It was on the stage of the Bolshoi that the Soviet Union was proclaimed a country in December 1922. Despite being bombed by Nazi warplanes during World War II, restoration work never ceased. In recent years the theater has undergone massive renovations (there are now two stages), and operations behind the curtain have not been quiet either. Most recently, the current Ballet Director, Sergei Filin, was partially blinded as a result of an acid attack, supposedly ordered by a male dancer.
To get a better sense of old Moscow take a stroll to the nearby Metropol Hotel, the largest pre-revolutionary hotel still standing in Moscow. Lenin and Trotsky regularly held court here to discuss the affairs of the nascent Soviet state and its guests over the years have included Mao Zedong, John Steinbeck, Marlene Dietrich, Jacques Chirac, Michael Jackson, and Enrique Iglesias. Not bad company.
Bolshoi Theater: Teatralnaya pl. 1, www.bolshoi.ru/en/
Metropol Hotel: Teatralny proyezd 2
Metro: Teatralnaya/Okhotny Ryad
3. VDNKh Park/Museum of the History of the USSR
VDNKh is the Soviet equivalent of Disney World’s EPCOT Center, an exhibition center displaying the glorious achievements of Communism all in one place. Well, at least that’s what it used to be like.
Today, the All-Russia Exhibition Center, as it is officially known, is a shadow of its former self, and that’s part of the charm. The long promenade was initially populated by teeming pavilions displaying the diversity of the republics, regions, and cities of the Soviet Union.
Opening exactly one month before Adolf Hitler’s invasion of Poland, during the Soviet period it housed exhibits demonstrating the Soviet Union’s achievements in industry, culture, and education.
Today, some of the pavilions to former Soviet Republics and industry remain, but it also contains an amusement park, iconic socialist statues, a museum dedicated to Soviet achievements in space, a fountain dedicated to the Friendship of the Peoples, and the Museum of the History of the USSR offering an eclectic assembly of the ornaments of daily life from the Soviet period in an attempt to explain the draw of socialism’s ideology.
Museum of the History of the USSR, Exhibition Center, Pavilion #2, Open M-F from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., weekends and holidays from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Entrance is 250 rubles. http://www.museumussr.ru/en/
4. New Tretyakov Gallery, Muzeon Fallen Monument Park, and Gorky Park
The New Tretyakov Gallery holds the world’s largest collection of socialist realism paintings and sculptures, including constructivist treasures, avant-garde experiments, and paintings showing peasants at work and canvasses demonstrating the greatness of Soviet industry.
Just to the right of the entrance to the Gallery is Muzeon, an outdoor garden dedicated to fallen statues from the Communist period. Before Muzeon was established it had become a depository for discarded statues removed from pedestals throughout the city.
Thus, it is an accidental park of sorts with old Stalins and Lenins, as well as memorials to the victims of Communism and contemporary sculptures.
Once a decrepit pier where punks and thugs would engage in mass brawls, Gorky Park has been revamped into one of the world’s premiere urban centers of leisure. Immortalized in the west in the 1980s by the Scorpions and the eponymous mystery novel by Martin Cruz Smith, today Gorky Park has shed its past of dilapidated amusement park rides in favor of trendy cafes, DJ parties, concerts, art house films, and exhibitions.
New Tretyakov Gallery: Krymsky Val 10, Open daily except Mondays from 10 a.m. to 7.30 p.m., entrance: 400 rubles. http://www.tretyakovgallery.ru/en/
Muzeon Fallen Monument Park: Open everyday from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. in fall and winter and until 11 p.m. in spring and summer. Entrance is free. http://www.muzeon.ru/
Gorky Park: Krymsky Val 9, Open 24 hours a day. http://www.park-gorkogo.com/eng/about/
Metro: Park Kultury/Oktyabrskaya
5. River Cruise on the Moscow River
The Flotilla Radisson Royal, a sleek cruise vessel run by the Radisson hotel chain, leaves from Gorky Park and Hotel Ukraine with multiple daily daytime and evening departures and journeys ranging from 1.5 to 3 hours. The boats are equipped with observation decks up top and an enclosed full-service restaurant below with an attached dance floor.
Snaking up the Moscow River, guests will be treated to privileged views of the Kremlin, Moscow State University, Novodevichy Monastery, and the Russian Federation House of Government, among many other unforgettable sights.
There are departures daily from 1 p.m. with the last excursion of the day at 9 p.m. Tickets are from 900 rubles.
Metro: Park Kultury/Oktyabrskaya for Gorky Park departures or Kievskaya for Hotel Ukraine departures.